As we told you at the end of October, Times Online has been presenting six weekly excerpts from “The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the nature of legal services,” by Richard Susskind, OBE (Oxford University Press, due May 2008). Susskind believes that “Commoditisation and IT will shape and characterise 21st century legal service.” Last month, while asking at length whether the Bar’s reaction to those forces would be the “cartel’s last stand,” we summed up:
Richard Susskind challenges the legal profession — not to try to prevent change and protect its traditional ways, but — “to find and embrace better, quicker, less costly, more convenient and publicly valued ways of working.”
“The End of Lawyers?” by Richard Susskind
Last week, in an installment titled “No one has a vision for the next generation of lawyers” (Nov. 19, 2007), Susskind lamented the short time-horizons of law firm managers, who never seem to look beyond the next five years. He states:
“In short, no one who might be thought to be in the driving seat of the legal system is thinking systematically, rigorously and in a sustained way about the long term future of legal service. No-one seems to be worrying about the fate of the next generation of lawyers.
“All that can be discerned in relation to the long term is a common assumption — whether on the part of scholars, professional bodies, government agencies or leading law firms — that legal service of tomorrow will be quite similar to that of today; perhaps more efficient and more business-like but not fundamentally different in nature.”
Yesterday, in the sixth and final excerpt, Susskind warns that “Only a foolhardy lawyer will fail to embrace change” (November 26, 2007). Even if you’ve missed the earlier installments (which are linked at the foot of this post), I urge lawyers, their regulators and educators, as well as their clients, to read this last installment.
In this last excerpt, Susskind tells how the title The End of Lawyers? came to him, while he was musing on the fate of mercers and other guilds over the centuries — ancient trades and craftsmen now scarcely remembered.
“It occurred to me that the fundamental demand for the products of these trades —cloths, candles, wheels — had not diminished; indeed it had often increased. But new technologies, methods of production and innovations had served to displace most of the associated craftsmen.
“I reflected upon the legal world and the possible impact of information technology. And I wondered then — and this first thought inspired the title of the book — whether lawyers might fade from society as other craftsmen have done over the centuries.”
He continues: “Perhaps 100 years from now, maybe more or maybe much less, people might sit in fine comfort in some vestige of today’s legal world (perhaps an ancient courtroom refurbished as a restaurant . . .) and . . . speculate in a leisurely manner about solicitors and barristers and advocates and attorneys.”
Who exactly were these people, these lawyers? What was their craft? They were involved with the law, of course, but what did they actually do? Why did we need them? How did they contribute? And why do we not have them any more? What brought about the end of lawyers?
Susskind goes on to answer his critics, who smugly assert that “computers cannot replace legal work.” He explains that, in pointing to Information Technology, he is concerned with “the extent to which some, much or all of what lawyers do can be undertaken more quickly, more conveniently and less expensively, and in a less forbidding way, by systems than by conventional work.”
Therefore, the question Richard Susskind prefers to ask is: “from the clients’ point of view, what tasks of lawyers will be better undertaken in the future by systems?”
Susskind then gives this frank warning: “It is a foolhardy lawyer indeed who unreflectively and dogmatically replies to this question by asserting ‘none whatsoever’. Open-minded lawyers, and those who genuinely care about the interests of their clients should, in the internet age, continually be looking at ways in which IT can play a more prominent role in their services.” (emphasis added) He explains that “disruptive legal technologies” threaten the work of today’s lawyers and law firms, in whole or in part.
Finally, Susskind notes: “Politely, it puzzles me profoundly that lawyers who know little about current and future technologies can be so confident about their inapplicability.” He wrote The End of Lawyers? to provide our profession with the insight needed to competently and diligently answer those important questions.
Two Cents from the f/k/a Gang: Because the Bar’s response is so important for the clients it exists to serve, and for society’s goal of full access to legal services and civil justice, I hope lawyers who feel that igorance is bliss will smarten up, and listen to Richard Susskind’s message. Moreover, I hope those who arrogantly believe they can use guild/cartel tactics to protect their own status and financial interests, by preventing the improvements that can come from IT and commoditization in client service and value — or by somehow keeping the monetary gains for themselves — will remember our oath to put client’s interests first.
If those principles won’t suffice, the public (and our political leaders and consumer advocates) must help the legal profession to recall the fate of the ancient guilds that tried to stop the forces of technology and the desires of the well-informed consumer, and help push the Bar to the right side of history.
Here are links to the six-part series from Times Online on Richard Susskind’s upcoming book, The End of Lawyers?:
- first excerpt: “Legal profession is on the brink of fundamental change.” (Oct. 19, 2007)
- second: “A decade on: much changed, much still to unfold (Oct. 29, 2007)
- third: “A decade on: much changed, much still to unfold (Nov. 5, 2007)
- fourth: “Outside investors will demand a very different type of law firm” (Nov. 12, 2007)
- fifth: “No one has a vision for the next generation of lawyers” (Nov. 19, 2007)
- sixth: “Only a foolhardy lawyer will fail to embrace change” (November 26, 2007)
The f/k/a Gang won’t bet on whether the End of Lawyers is near, but we confidently predict that there will always by a demand for haiku from lawyer poets such as Barry George and Roberta Beary. Here are poems from Barry and Roberta from the new anthology echoes 1 (Compiled by Jim Kacian and Alice Frampton, Red Moon Press, 2007):
first trick of treat . . .
the toddler reaches for
her mother’s face
a drip in the sink
fills the whole house
his new bride
waits in the car
…………………….. by Barry George, from echoes 1 (Red Moon Press, 2007)
“first trick of treat” – Hon. Men, Betty Drevniok Award 2005
“fridgid night” – HM, Kaji Aso International Haiku Contest 2005
“snow buntings” – HM, Gerald Brady Contest 2001
mother turns her face
to the wall
again this year my son waits
alone by the door
Bonus: Here’s Roberta’s honored poem from the Basho Poetry Offerings 2007 — the Haiku Competition held by Basho Memorial Museum, during the Basho Festival in October 12, 2007 in Iga city, Mie prefecture, Japan.
one by one
Roberta Beary、 USA